The Medical Mystery of Africa's Covid-19 Immunity


| LAST UPDATE 03/24/2022

By Stanley Wickens
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Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit us, we've seen the virus spread uncontrollably throughout the whole world. But the mystery puzzling scientist is that one region has seen a significantly smaller number of deaths than the rest of the globe - Africa.

Since 2020, more than 1.8 million people - a heartbreaking number - have died from the virus, according to Statista. But African countries, such as Sierra Leone, have contributed very little to that growing number. For example, in France alone, 140,600 deaths were recorded, as opposed to 125 coronavirus-related deaths in Sierra Leone since 2019. This phenomenon is especially perplexing since France has nearly four times as many health professionals as Sierra Leone providing services to those infected. Not only that, but only an average of 12.2% of African countries are vaccinated, as opposed to more than 92% of European populations. Besides Sierra Leone, other countries on the continent that haven't been as tragically hit by Covid-19 include Ghana and Tanzania as well. So, how is the death toll in African countries so low?

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One theory by sources like WorldBank is that cases of deaths in African countries are very underreported because of a lack of Covid-19 tests in these countries. However, Dr. Andy Pekosz, a SARS-CoV-2 expert and the Vice Chair of the Molecular Microbiology & Immunology Department at Johns Hopkins University, isn't too convinced. "I think it's quite clear that SARS-CoV-2 has been introduced into African countries on numerous occasions but in some cases, it's not lead to outbreaks that are anywhere close to the scale we have seen elsewhere, including places like South America that lie on the same longitudinal lines as parts of Africa," Pekosz told Fortune. He also added that there is "certainly good enough monitoring of infectious diseases to have detected severe cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19." Pekosz believes the explanation must lie elsewhere.

Other theories are that this discrepancy is a result of African populations having higher antibodies to seasonal coronaviruses than other communities. But Pekosz doesn't see enough evidence in the research to support this theory. "Some studies of antibody levels in African countries haven't shown a strong signal of preexisting antibodies to SARS-CoV-2," Pekosz told Fortune. "It may be that parts of the immune response not related to antibodies could be contributing–perhaps cellular immune responses like T cell responses." With more research is conducted on the issue, scientists are hoping to find more evidence that may explain the puzzling gap.

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